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C.D. Warner, et al., comp. The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes. 1917.
G. R. Lomer, ed. The Student’s Course in Literature.

Lectures on the World’s Best Literature: Latin Literature

By Carroll Neidé Brown (1869–1938)

JUST as the name of Greece is to the world of to-day almost synonymous with that literary and artistic gift which was a consequence of the Greeks’ rare feeling for symmetry and beauty, Rome may be said to stand for an equally original creative ability to organize and administer government. The successive attempts of Athens, Sparta, and Thebes to unite Greece under one leadership had signally failed, owing to the selfishness and jealousy of the different states and their leaders. Even the vast empire of Alexander the Great had disintegrated as soon as the one great unifying force that had formed it—the magnetic personality of its king—had ceased to exist. Rome, however, starting from small beginnings, steadily trained herself, as her power gradually increased, for the important part that she was destined to play as the mistress of the world.

In the “Latin League,” which was formed in very early times for purely defensive purposes against the Etruscans and the mountain tribes of central Italy, but which ultimately in aggressive warfare conquered these peoples and assisted in the subjugation of the rest of Italy, we find the germ of the Roman Empire that was to come. The conviction was borne in upon the Romans that in union is strength, and this, which was at that time a real discovery, doubtless contributed to the final settlement of the quarrel between plebeians and patricians for the supremacy in Rome itself (300 B.C.). Each side came to respect the other as an essential constituent part of the state, and the Romans, thus united, speedily completed the conquest of Italy and looked out across Sicily to their great rival for the control of the western Mediterranean, the Carthaginians.

The third century B.C. saw Carthage’s sway over Sicily ended by the First Punic War, and her mighty generals, Hasdrubal and Hannibal, finally defeated in Spain, Italy, and Africa in the Hannibalic or Second Punic War. With the western Mediterranean thus firmly in her grasp, Rome turned to the east. The Roman legions proved superior to the Macedonian phalanx at Cynocephalæ in Thessaly, and Greece and Asia Minor soon came under the suzerainty of Rome. The year 146 B.C. was signalized by the fall of the wealthy and prosperous city of Corinth and by the final victory over Carthage, which was utterly destroyed at the close of the Third Punic War. The ability of the Romans, following the dictates of common sense, to adapt themselves to circumstances, that is, to make necessary and compulsory changes slowly without losing their heads, was what especially fitted them for world empire.

In our study of Latin literature we shall find that those forms of literature that are specifically or largely concerned with the political control of individuals, classes, and states made an especial appeal to the Roman mind, and that in these they, to a marked degree, excelled. Thus social and political satire, as a distinct branch of literature, was originated by them; oratory, as a means of influencing public policy, was developed far beyond such restricted use as the Greeks had made of it; and Rome’s system of jurisprudence was so perfected and adapted to the empire’s needs that it has continued to live as the basis of European law.

Rome’s cultural or civilizing influence has been felt through all the ages. Her language has gradually developed into the modern vernaculars of Italy, Spain, and France; her literature has exerted a direct and living influence on theirs, and many of her customs and habits of action and thought are perpetuated in the life of these countries to-day. England, too, partly through direct contact with Latin literature but in an even larger degree through the transmitted influence of Italian, Spanish, and French writers, has profited by Rome’s institutional contribution to the world’s progress, and in her language and literature she shows traces everywhere of Latin influence. The great bulk of the English words that have to do with all but the simplest and most elemental relations of human life have come into the language through Norman-French or Latin-French channels.

If we wish, then, to trace back to their original sources the currents of modern thought and action, or to study their manifestations in any of the literatures in which they have found or are to-day finding expression, we shall see that nearly all of them lead back to Rome.

There is still another reason why we should study Latin literature, and this is that the influence of Greece on the mediæval and modern world was first exerted through the medium of Latin. The Romans were the first to appreciate and to interpret to a barbarian world the beauties of Greek art and literature. It was in a Latin dress, and through a Latin glass, that our progenitors saw for many ages somewhat darkly the old Greeks from Homer to Aristotle. These worthies we moderns, ever since the Renaissance at least, have been able to see more brightly, clearly, and, as it were, more face to face in their original garb and setting, the ancient Greek language. We owe, in fact, the very preservation of our old Greek manuscripts to that powerful later Roman empire in Byzantium, which, in its rich libraries and monasteries, guarded these treasures of a bygone age until the fall of Constantinople in 1453 A.D. In the earlier times, however, when Italian, French, and English were first coming into being, this influence was exerted not immediately and directly, but through the medium of the Latin writers, in a translated and modified form that made it more practically assimilable and more adapted to the conditions of life at that time.

It is, however, in no antiquarian or even purely historical spirit that we should approach this literature, for it is in itself worthy of most sympathetic attention. The spirit of Rome was peculiarly akin to our own. Achievement and the steady holding of ground won is written large on every page of the history of the Roman people. The Romans were by no means devoid of literary feeling or capacity, and one of the most striking results of their victory over Greece was their desire to make the glorious literature of Greece their own, and thus to achieve greatness in the world of letters and art, as well as in the more material spheres of military and political conquest. This is indeed but another illustration of the Roman’s indomitable will to overcome difficulties. In later times this culture, which had in it so much that was Greek, was either imposed on the subjugated peoples or voluntarily adopted by them.

We moderns enter into our heritage in this civilization, this language and literature, more easily and naturally than into the stranger but more charmingly fascinating Greek world. Greece faces the east with its bays and its ports; it has rubbed with the Orient for ages, and has been both buffer and coupler to that strange, romantically mysterious life of Asia and Africa, while Italy and Rome open out rather to the west. To-day, as of old, Italy’s influence in art, in music, and in literature is exerted over western Europe. The historian Mommsen has said that, “the deepest and ultimate reason of the diversity between the two nations lies beyond doubt in the fact that Latium did not, and that Hellas did, during the season of growth, come into contact with the East.”

One of the most marked differences between the Greek and the Roman literatures is that Greek literature grew and developed contemporaneously with the language, or rather the language was continually developing so as to keep pace with an internal impulse toward adequate expression, whereas with the Romans, the desire for literary expression came after the language had attained an almost stereotyped form, after it had, in fact, been subjected to processes similar to those de-individualizing, those subordinating and organizing processes which, in the political sphere, made each Roman, each Latin, and each Italian subordinate himself to the greatness of Rome. In other words, the literature came later in the language-history of the people, and, taking this fact into account, the Romans were amazingly successful in adapting this hard unyielding speech, which demanded such faultlessly correct and logical composition, to the rendering of the more graceful beauties of Greek literature. We see the literary file too plainly at times, and we detect all too frequently that essentially inartistic aim at effect, which is so conspicuously lacking in almost all Greek literature. On the other hand, in the use of poetry for political and social purposes (even the ‘Æneid’ of Virgil is really a piece of imperialistic propaganda), in declamation and in political oratory where the audience is ever in the writer’s mind, and where the formal marshaling of fact and argument in order to force conviction plays such a part, the Roman is almost unexcelled. Here his common sense keeps him from windy bombast, his desire to attain his end directly and at once prevents padding and tautology, and his unimaginative mind keeps him from vague imagery and metaphor. The English writers of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries came under the influence of this ostentatious and rhetorical element in the Latin writers, made especially effective, as it usually is, by its satirical and somewhat cynical note, but they had not the saving Roman sense of propriety and proportion in its use. In a language which is subject to such stringently logical grammatical rules we cannot expect spontaneous invention and individuality. While every Greek writer of the fifth and fourth centuries B.C. is recognizable in almost every line that is extant by little and great peculiarities of style, this cannot be said of the Romans to anything like the same degree.

Important Dates up to the Time of Augustus

  • 753 B.C.Traditional date for the founding of Rome.
  • 509 B.C.Roman Republic established.
  • 451 B.C.Election of the first decemvirs.
  • 390 B.C.Sack of Rome by the Gauls.
  • 272 B.C.War with Pyrrhus ended by fall of Tarentum.
  • 264–241 B.C.First Punic War.
  • 218–201 B.C.Second Punic War.
  • 146 B.C.Third Punic War ended by destruction of Carthage.
  • 146 B.C.Capture of Corinth.
  • 88–82 B.C.Civil wars between Marius and Sulla.
  • 64–62 B.C.Conspiracy of Catiline.
  • 60 B.C.First triumvirate formed.
  • 58–51 B.C.Conquests of Cæsar in Gaul and Britain.
  • 48 B.C.Battle of Pharsalus; Pompey flees to Egypt.
  • 46 B.C.Cæsar becomes dictator.
  • 44 B.C.Murder of Cæsar.
  • 43 B.C.Second triumvirate formed.
  • 31 B.C.Battle of Actium between Octavius and Antony, establishes Octavius (later known as Augustus) as emperor.
  • Reading Recommended

    The Beginnings of Latin Literature

    Roman literature might have developed along its own lines, and probably would have done so, if it had germinated at an earlier epoch than it did. There existed a ballad folk-literature which, in accordance with the typical patriotic bent of the Roman mind, centered about heroes of story who had sacrificed themselves for their country’s good, but there was lacking a body of religious belief and a mythology, which are seemingly the indispensable prerequisites to all imaginative creation. They had no bright unclouded Olympus, and their religion was a religion chiefly of ritual and ceremony.

    It was only when brought into direct contact with Greek that Latin literature became conscious of self and began really to live and grow. At the time of the capture of Tarentum by the Romans (272 B.C.), a Greek named Andronicus was brought to Rome and became the teacher of the children of M. Livius Salinator. After he was freed he continued to teach, and for his pupils’ use he translated the Odyssey into Latin in the rude Saturnian verse which Macaulay so aptly compares with folk verses like:

  • “The queen was in her chamber eating bread and honey.”
  • After the First Punic War Andronicus produced at the Ludi Romani in 240 B.C. translations of a Greek tragedy and a Greek comedy in the iambic and trochaic metres of the original, and his successors in dramatic writing continued to use these metres, which they found more akin to the genius of the Latin language than the dactylic hexameter.

    Gnæus Nævius was the first native Latin poet. Apart from translations of tragedies and comedies, which formed the bulk of his work, he was the first to produce plays on Roman subjects, “fabulæ prætextæ” or “prætextatæ,” which were so-called because the actors wore the purple-bordered Roman costume. He dramatized the story of Romulus and Remus, for example, and the defeat of the Insubrians in 222 B.C. His comedies, like those of Aristophanes, often dealt with political conditions of his own time. He thus antagonized the powerful family of the Metelli. Later he wrote epics in the Saturnian metre and among these was a history of the First Punic War, a work that was much admired and was, in fact, somewhat closely imitated by Virgil in parts of the ‘Æneid.’

    It was, however, to Ennius of Rudiæ in Calabria that Latin literature in its beginnings owed the most. M. Porcius Cato found him serving in the army and took him home to teach his children Greek. His works, of which some quite extensive fragments remain, comprised tragedies and comedies, a translation of Euhemerus, epigrams in elegiac metre, and a great epic in at least eighteen books called the ‘Annales,’ which gave in hexameter verse the history of the Romans from the arrival of Æneas in Italy up to Ennius’s own time. Two “fabulæ prætextæ” of his are known by name, the ‘Sabine Women’ dealing with the rape of the Sabine women by the Romans, and an ‘Ambracia’ telling of the capture of that part of Greece by M. Fulvius Nobilior. Ennius was the first great epic poet among the Romans, and it was he who first shaped the Greek hexameter to Latin purposes—by no means an easy task—and established the rules and conventions of Latin prosody. Long after his death his tragedies continued to be played at the city festivals where the presentation of tragedies had by this time become a fixed custom.

    His nephew, Pacuvius, whose style seems to have been easier and more graceful than that of Ennius, inherited his gift and was regarded by Cicero as the greatest Roman tragic writer. In spite of this judgment of Cicero’s, we must regard Lucius Accius as superior to Pacuvius in the perfection of his style and the richness of his imagination, though his dramas, too, consisted chiefly of direct translations (we do, to be sure, know of a ‘Brutus’ of his with Tarquin as one of the characters), or of artistic mingling or “contaminatio” of two Greek plays. He was contemporary with the old age of Pacuvius and with the youth of Cicero who knew him well and tells us many anecdotes of his life. During the time of the Gracchi and Sulla, he dominated the tragic theatre of Rome. Forty-five of his tragedies are known to us by title and in scattered fragments. With the steady decline in the sturdy virtues of old Republican Rome, and an increasing interest in the brutal gladiatorial shows, interest in theatrical performances declined, and Accius is the last writer of tragedy till the quasi-revival of this art in the turgid declamatory tragedies of Seneca.

    It was the assured control of the western Mediterranean, and the great increase in national power and wealth resulting from the successful outcome of the Punic Wars which had created a leisure class at Rome that could interest itself in a cultivated literature like Greek, and that would, with truly Roman patriotism, encourage the translation of these masterpieces into Latin. The Scipios loved to associate with themselves men like Ennius and Accius in a life the charming friendliness of which is so well depicted by Cicero in his essays ‘On Friendship’ and ‘On Old Age.’ For the common people the theatre provided in comedy as well as in tragedy this same interesting and stimulating contact with the older world of Greece. As interest in the mythological personages of Greece paled before the engrossing interests of a greater Rome, comedy, a comedy of manners, grew in importance. The middle and new comedy of Greece had fallen heir to much that had characterized Euripidean tragedy, and this melodramatic element seemed to appeal particularly to the Romans.

    Plautus (c. 254–184 B.C.) was as a youth a theatrical assistant; he then, for a while, tried his hand at trade and on failing in this took to the writing of plays, his first production dating from about 224. His comedies were “palliatæ,” i.e., the actors wore Greek costumes, and his plots were purely Greek. They were, however, thoroughly adapted to his Roman audience; quips and jests, slang and “double entendre,” horseplay, and clownishness are all distinctly Roman. The buffoonery and farcical nature of the old “Fescenninæ” (rude and licentious folk-plays that had existed for centuries), when grafted on the more graceful plays of a Philemon or a Menander, would almost have kept these writers from recognizing their offspring in this foreign land. The types of the miserly parent, the sly and thievish slave, the greedy pander, the licentious young man, occur again and again. The maiden led astray usually turns out to be a long lost daughter of a neighbor and friend, and the slave and parasite (the ancient prototype of our clown) are punished or rewarded according to their deserts. If one were to estimate the Greek life of Menander’s time, or the Roman life of the days of Plautus by these caricatures of its taverns and brothels, it would be a sad and sorry, picture, but the thought of the subjects of many of our modern, not to say eighteenth-century novels, will keep us from sanctimonious grimaces and help us to estimate Roman life of this time at its true worth.

    Among the purer of his twenty plays are the ‘Captivi,’ the ‘Trinummus,’ and the ‘Menæchmi.’ The last is a proximate source for Shakespeare’s ‘Comedy of Errors.’ The ‘Aulularia’ or ‘The Pot of Gold’ gave Molière his miserly Harpagon. The ‘Miles Gloriosus’ forms the type of a swashbuckling braggart, and the ‘Rudens’ is characterized by many passages that show a deep sympathy on Plautus’s part with the charm of the sea and the loveliness of nature. Plautus’s language is virile and vigorous, and his style racy and clever. From his writings we are enabled to get a very clear conception of the language of the common people which already differed strikingly from the language of more polished literature, and we recognize that gift of quick repartee which is so characteristic to-day of all Latin peoples.

    Cæcilius, an Insubrian who came to Rome about 200 and who formed one of the brilliant coterie of Ennius, bridges over the gap between Plautus and Terence. He seems to have stuck closer to his Greek originals, but to have been lacking in vigor and brilliance. The story goes that Terence, a young man of twenty-one, unknown and meanly dressed, obtained permission to read before Cæcilius his ‘Andria,’ and that the aged poet, convinced of his talent, at once brought him forward into prominence as a playwright. Terence was a Carthaginian but was adopted as a boy by Terentius Lucanus, in whose family he must have acquired his wonderful mastery over the delicacies of Latin construction and idiom. Of his six plays the ‘Phormio’ and probably the ‘Hecyra’ were drawn from Apollodorus, while the ‘Andria,’ the ‘Self-tormentor,’ the ‘Eunuch,’ and the ‘Brothers’ were taken from plays of Menander. Terence was satisfied to reproduce, in the most polished and finished Latin style for the Romans of the middle and upper classes, the character studies of the later Greek comedy. Even though his work shows no originality in conception or development of plot, it evidences the deepest sympathy with the fundamentals of human character and disposition, and renders these characteristics with a finished perfection that makes them for all time models of their kind. If what men write may be said to be literature only when a high ideal of artistic perfection is consciously held up for attainment, Terence may be said to have been the very first to show the Romans that Rome could have a literature worthy of the name and that the Latin language as it was could be the vehicle of that literature.

    Latin prose at this time shows more character and originality than Latin poetry, for it had reached greater formal perfection before it came into contact with Greek. The language had long been used in formal speeches at funerals and family festivals, as well as publicly in connection with tribal and political meetings. Written laws, like the Twelve Tables (451–450), treaties inscribed on stone or brass, and genealogical inscriptions on tombs and monuments, must have settled its form and construction at a comparatively early date, and must have done much to crowd out the Oscan and Umbrian dialects and to impose Latin on the surrounding peoples of Italy. The first written speech that we know of is that of Appius Claudius Cæcus urging the Romans to reject Pyrrhus’s terms of peace in the war which he waged in behalf of the Greeks of southern Italy. Owing to the vogue of Greek and Greek literature, the earliest prose writers of the second century B.C., such as Q. Fabius Pictor and Publius Cornelius Scipio, the son of the elder Africanus, wrote in Greek. The upper classes at that time affected Greek dress, manners, speech, and ways of thinking much as in Athens to-day French is the prevalent affectation of the cultured Greeks. Among those who violently opposed this tendency was M. Porcius Cato, prominent in all the life of his time and patriotic to a degree. One hundred and fifty of his speeches were known to Cicero, but his chief work was the ‘Origines,’ the first prose history of Rome. In the latter part of this he gave his own achievements and his own speeches a prominent place. His treatise ‘On Agriculture’ is his only extant work. It was an attempt to call the Romans back to their old life, an early “back to the farm” movement. His style was pithy and pregnant, characterized by short sentences which frankly disregarded any attempt at grace or elegance. Contemporary with this early prose were the juristic works of Publius Ælius, the basis of later Roman law.

    The circle of Scipio Africanus, the Younger, who ended the Third Punic War by the capture of Carthage, made much of the Greek hostages who were kept in Italy from 167–150 B.C. Among these Polybius strongly influenced Roman historical writers, and the Stoic Panætius, the writers on philosophy. Among Scipio’s friends was Lucilius the satirist who has been called the most original of all Latin poets, for satire (its name is probably derived from the “lanx satura,” a mixed dish of various ingredients) is the one form of literature which the world owes to Rome. It was characterized by invective criticism of habits, manners, institutions, and individuals, and was at times shrewishly bitter in tone and again genially humorous. It voiced in literary form the same spirit of restless discontent and dissatisfaction with the existent state of affairs that found expression in a political way in the revolts of the Gracchi (133–122).

    Reading Recommended
    (Early Latin Literature)

  • 284–204 B.C.Livius Andronicus
  • c. 264–194 B.C.Gnæus Nævius
  • c. 254–184 B.C.Plautus
  • 239–169 B.C.Ennius
  • 234–149 B.C.Cato the Elder
  • c. 195/185&–c. 159 B.C.Terence
  • The Late Republican Period

    Though the period from the time of the Gracchi to the death of Cicero was distinctly an age of prose and in particular of oratory, for every public man was perforce an orator, it produced two poets that have never been surpassed in their respective spheres, Lucretius in philosophical poetry, and Catullus in the poetry of love and passion.

    Lucretius (c. 99–c. 55 B.C.) was a great philosopher as well as a great poet. His poem entitled ‘On the Nature of Things’ presents a strong and virile philosophy as well as a rugged and vigorous poetry. It sharply decries and derides the prevailing superstitious beliefs in the many gods of Rome and Greece and advocates the Epicurean doctrine that pleasure is the chief and greatest good thing in life. He tells us that he chooses to put his gloomy and pessimistic doctrine in the form of poetry just as wise doctors wet the cup of bitter medicine with honey. The atomic theory of Democritus and Epicurus is here set forth and the theories of Heraclitus, Empedocles, and Anaxagoras are refuted; disbelief in the immortality of mind and soul (which Lucretius believes are material) is shown to be the only logical possibility; the beginnings of the universe and of our civilization are described in terms that closely resemble the modern doctrines of evolution and the survival of the fittest. The poem ends with a description of the plague at Athens clearly derived from Thucydides. Lucretius’s poetry is probably imitative of Empedocles, whom he evidently greatly admired. In the dignity and loftiness of his literary style, in his power to describe the titanic in nature, he strongly resembles Æschylus, though the quieter and calmer beauties of nature, too, made a strong appeal to him and are winsomely set forth. At his best he sweeps us along as in some torrent that he himself describes, giving us a lightning view now of fierce battle, now of some storm-roused sea.

    Catullus (c. 84–c. 54 B.C.) was a poet of an entirely different nature and gift. The cloying sweetness of love, the embittering disillusionment of unrequited or decaying passion, and the wild madness of exotic and perverted desires and cravings Catullus describes so simply, with such bitter sweetness and such weird wildness that we know the feelings are his own. Catullus has the heart and tongue of a Sappho, and is indubitably the greatest lyrist, if not the greatest poet that Rome ever produced. The Greek culture of his time had on him its full stimulating and corrupting influence. Aristocratic, wealthy, and charming, he fell under the fascination of the notorious Clodia, whom he has immortalized as Lesbia. His most passionate poems deal with his love for her. The familiarity of Catullus with the Alexandrian poets is shown by some of his longer poems such as the ‘Epithalamia’ or wedding songs, the ‘Attis,’ in which the orgiastic worship of Cybele is pictured, and the ‘Lock of Berenice’ which is a translation from Callimachus. His ability to render closely the metre, rhythm, and even exact words of his Greek original and at the same time to keep his poems unstilted, natural, and graceful, is something phenomenal. We see none of the playful or quizzical artificiality or preciosity of Horace; in fact, if we did not know the Greek originals or know of them we should hardly be aware of his debt to them. His poems do not savor of translation; his is no baldly literal, verbatim rendering, but a great poet’s singing of another poet’s song.

    Although the sudden expansion of Rome’s imperial power in the second century B.C. had brought with it great increase in wealth and material prosperity, this had chiefly benefited the upper classes, the so-called “optimates,” composed of the wealthy generals, provincial officials, government contractors and landholders. The gulf between these and the “populates” had steadily widened and it was this that gave Marius, who had espoused the cause of the masses, the opportunity in the early part of the first century B.C. to carry out that reign of terror the severity of which was only equaled later by the vengeance which Sulla visited on the Marian party upon his return from his victories over Mithradates in Greece and Asia Minor. It was in quelling the remnants of the Marian party, still in revolt in Sicily, Africa, and Spain, that Pompey came into prominence. In Spain and Southern Gaul he boasted that he had forced the gates of more than eight hundred cities. Meanwhile Crassus had acquired similar prestige by his victories over Spartacus and the revolted gladiators. It was at this time that Cicero’s early reputation was made by his brilliant oration attacking the criminal rapacity of Verres as proprætor of Sicily, by the oration ‘On the Manilian Law’ which advocated the entrusting of the Mithradatic war to Pompey, and even more than all perhaps by his success in discovering and suppressing the conspiracy of Catiline. The weakness of the state, thus shown, led naturally to the formation of the first triumvirate, which was a bartering and bargaining division of the power between Pompey, Crassus, and the rising Cæsar, who, though patrician-born, had taken up the cause of the democratic party and by lavish largesses and extravagant expenditures on the public games had won very great popularity. Cæsar was made consul, Pompey’s veterans were rewarded by allotments of the public land, and on the expiration of Cæsar’s consulship (58 B.C.) he undertook the administration of the Gallic provinces, where, in the next seven years, he gained a military and political power which permitted him, after Crassus had been slain in warfare with the Parthians, to gain the victory over his rival Pompey and to concentrate all the power in his own hands.

    Cæsar’s greatness as a general was surpassed by his wisdom and sagacity as a statesman. The colonies were put on a juster and more permanent basis, Roman citizenship was more widely conferred on the provincials, the calendar was reformed, extensive governmental surveys were undertaken, and plans were made for the codifying of the laws, a task which was finally executed by the Emperor Justinian long centuries later. Cæsar’s death at the hands of jealous conspirators, who saw in his vast plans only a subversion of the old republic, occurred in 44 B.C.

    The commanding figure in the literary world of this time is, of course, he from whom the period is often named, Marcus Tullius Cicero. In him Latin prose reaches its highest perfection. His style became and has remained the standard by which the Latin of all ages is tested. Can a term like “Ciceronian Latin” be found in any other language? At earlier periods in various literatures,—witness for instance Dante in Italian and perhaps Chaucer in English—one man has shaped the early form of a language, but in no other case at a correspondingly late period has any one man exerted such a powerful and compelling force on the prose of his time. Well trained in law, and thoroughly versed in Greek rhetoric and philosophy, he became an able advocate and passed rapidly through the three important offices of quæstor, ædile, and prætor, and became consul in 63 B.C. It was in his consulship that the conspiracy of Catiline was suppressed and the chief conspirators were put to death. This act, which was contrary to law, but sanctioned by a decree of the senate, resulted a little later in Cicero’s banishment by the first triumvirate. In the trouble between Cæsar and Pompey, Cicero sided with the latter whom he followed to Greece. On the latter’s death, he was allowed by Cæsar to return to Rome. Always intensely patriotic, he was a leader in the opposition to Antony after Cæsar’s death, and delivered his fourteen so-called ‘Philippics’ against him. A little later he was put to death by Antony’s soldiers and his head and hands were fastened up on the rostra in the forum. From the period of his greatest political power, in addition to the speeches mentioned above, comes the oration ‘For Archias’ which is perhaps the ablest defense of literary pursuits ever written by a man whose life was at once a life of the greatest political activity and at the same time largely devoted to letters. The latter part of his life was devoted to writings on the theory and practice of oratory, to translations rendering into Latin the best in Greek philosophy, and to a voluminous and extremely varied correspondence with his many friends. It is our great good fortune to have had preserved to us a large part of Cicero’s literary work. Throughout the Middle Ages, his philosophical works were the great thesaurus of Greek thought for cleric and scholar alike. His style in this purely literary writing is graceful, polished, and almost always interesting; in his orations it is characterized besides by a force and fire that are the result of a most intense personal conviction. Easily first among Latin orators, he knew how to appeal to the past dignity and greatness of Rome and to stir in the hearts of his hearers what still remained of the sturdy old Roman virtues.

    Cæsar, too, was one who combined literary pursuits with a life of the most tremendous political activities. His ‘Commentaries’ on his Gallic campaigns, summarily written as they are, show that his life may be described as “a word and a blow,” with the blow coming first. Now here, now there, on this side of the Alps or that, balked by no difficulty, overriding all opposition, invading Britain and Germany, he imposed Rome on Gaul, and himself on Rome. In spite of a seeming suppression of himself, in this account of his successes in Gaul, which he undoubtedly intended as a political pamphlet, he approves himself to the popular party at Rome as the man of the hour for them. In this work, as in his history of the Civil War, Cæsar shows himself a writer of no mean order. For vivid narration, for ability to pick out the salient points in a military or political situation, and graphically to describe them, he is unexcelled. His style is simple and straightforward, with little embellishment apart from an occasional interesting incident or personal anecdote. He everywhere extols the efficiency of the Roman legionary when properly led and officered.

    Sallust. Cæsar’s works are hardly histories in that sense in which the works of Thucydides or of Herodotus are thus designated. Only incidentally does he mention causes or tendencies as producing distant effects. Rather does he, as the man of action, narrate somewhat superficially the facts from which history is deduced. Sallust was the first prose writer who had a broad conception of historical causes and events. He not infrequently carries his habit of philosophical reflection too far, and his rhetoric sometimes degenerates into artificiality, but his narrative style is interesting and picturesque. He was an ardent supporter of democratic and popular rights as against the corrupt rule of the aristocratic senate. Unfortunately only his account of the conspiracy of Catiline and his history of the Jugurthine War are extant. His ‘Histories,’ a far more ambitious work, written in his maturer years, is known to us only by inconsiderable fragments.

    Reading Recommended
    (Late Republican Period)

  • 106–43 B.C.Marcus Tullius Cicero
  • Quintilian on Cicero
  • Montaigne on Cicero
  • 100–44 B.C.Julius Cæsar
  • Montaigne on Cæsar
  • Quintilian on Cæsar
  • Mommsen on Cæsar
  • c. 99–c. 55 B.C.Titus Lucretius Carus
  • Lucretius and Virgil
  • c. 86–c. 34/35 B.C.Sallust (Gaius Sallustius Crispus)
  • c. 84–c. 54 B.C.Gaius Valerius Catullus
  • The Golden Age

    Virgil, who is universally regarded as the greatest of Roman poets, was the laureate of Rome at the time when the empire was at its greatest height. A man of remarkable charm, and a beloved and sympathetic friend of all who came into contact with him, he was, upon his introduction to Mæcenas and Augustus, at once admitted by them to the innermost circle of their friends. Virgil seems at an early age to have felt that Rome’s past and present greatness was to be celebrated and rendered ever memorable by him. That its empire would last through the ages, he never doubted. Though he had steeped his poetic soul in the great Greek literature of all periods, his works are by no means so Greek in spirit as are those of Terence, Catullus, and Propertius, for he was more of a Roman than they in the loyalty that he felt towards Augustus and the patriotic pride that he continually evinces in all his work. He was most thoroughly persuaded that Rome transcended Greece, and he therefore wished to utilize the best in Greek literature to enhance the greatness of his beloved country. Born amid the beautiful scenery of northern Italy, he saw in what Theocritus had done to depict the charm of Sicily a challenge to glorify Italy, and in the ‘Eclogues’ he shows us transfer pictures that are bright with the greater freshness and greenth of the well-watered valleys of his home country. In the ‘Georgics’ he goes back to Hesiod’s ‘Works and Days’ for his inspiration, but with what a loving hand does this western poet portray the Italian’s fondness for his well-tilled upland farm with its bees and its flocks! The ‘Georgics’ have been called the most native of all Latin poems. Their obviously didactic purpose was to glorify the rustic life of Italy, and to tempt men to respect more highly the life of the farmer. They breathe throughout the poet’s deep love for the peace and joy and beauty of this country life, and may be said to be almost of the nature of propaganda in those times when the cityward movement of the population of Italy was fully under way.

    But it is in the ‘Æneid’ that the glory of Rome’s power flashes forth and the martial step of her imperious armies resounds. Virgil lived in the time when all the world rested under the shield and spear of the Emperor Augustus. After the third triumvirate had come to an end by the expulsion of Lepidus and the defeat of Antony at Actium, Octavius, profiting by the lesson taught him in Cæsar’s death, had avoided taking the name of king, contenting himself with the titles of Imperator and Augustus, but he had none the less surely concentrated all the power in his own hands while allowing the outward forms of the republic to remain. The consolidation of what had seemed to be on the point of total disintegration into an empire which lasted five hundred years longer was, as Merivale says, “the greatest political work that any human being ever wrought.” He had been wise enough furthermore to encourage everything that brought glory to Rome and a sense of pride to her citizens. Architecture, art, and literature were especially fostered by him, and many an intellect and heart that might have rebelled against the new régime, or whose activities might have aroused others to such rebellion, was guided by Augustus and his able and wealthy minister Mæcenas, into sharing in the honors of the court and extolling its glorious achievements. Virgil, then, in prophecies that were prophecies after the event could safely cast back into the years that preceded the founding of Rome the seeds of those virtues that subsequently made Rome great. For example, those famous gates of war in the Temple of Janus, so seldom shut throughout Rome’s history, are by him carried back into that antique and prehistoric time when Æneas, the progenitor of the Roman race, fights with the people of the old king Latinus, whose daughter he was soon after to marry. Thus, too, the founding of Carthage, destined to be Rome’s great rival of the third and second centuries B.C., is described as Æneas visits it on his way from fallen Troy to the land where Rome was to rise. In Æneas’s desertion of Queen Dido, to the end that Rome’s great destiny may be fulfilled, we see a supposed cause for the Punic Wars that were to come. In his hero’s visit to the lower world (in Book VI.) the poet with true genius seizes the opportunity to tell of Æneas’s meeting with the great Romans that were to come, with Cæsar, Augustus, and the young Marcellus, whose premature death had but recently (23 B.C.) been such a severe blow to Augustus. Throughout the poem, in all the dignity and pomp of the martial hexameter, in verses that lend themselves to declamation as few other Latin verses do, we listen to the tale of the greatness that was Rome in the early and the later centuries.

    While Virgil in many passages imitates more or less closely his Greek originals, if we look nearer we see that this resemblance is largely superficial and verbal; the spirit is Roman; the fulness, the dignity, the gravity of the utterance are in full accord with the weight and import of his theme. There is little of Homer’s wonderful grace, directness, and spontaneity of style, and still less of that epic interest in the passions and desires of men’s hearts. Here, as so often in Rome’s history, interest in the individual is merged and almost lost sight of in that in the state. Æneas is the “pious Æneas,” first as performing all the duties of a son, second as fulfilling a destiny as progenitor of the later Romans, and third as initiating that somewhat ponderous patriotism which was the glory of Roman citizenship and which, at any rate in republican times, made Rome so efficient in subduing her neighbors.

    The poems of Horace reflect the life of the wealthy and educated classes in Rome under the reign of Augustus. They even formed along with other poems of their sort a not unimportant element in the social life of the city, for the cultivation of the art of writing poetry about everyday affairs was widespread, and Horace, who disputes with Catullus the honor of being the greatest of Rome’s lyric poets, was at this time its leading exponent. His nature was less retiring than Virgil’s, and he entered fully into the social activities of the great city. His poems deal with every phase of its busy and interesting life. The feeling that at last a strong and stable government was in control, that servile revolt and civil strife were forever past, while it did not stimulate the creation of works of great and spontaneous genius, gave poets who were content to enjoy the present hour and to extol the able and efficient administration of the ruler a splendid opportunity for literary activity. The Epicurean doctrine that the present was to be enjoyed to the full suited a paternal government like that of Augustus, and a man of Horace’s genial and happy temperament could effectively set forth this doctrine. The literary grace and finish that we see everywhere in his poems resulted naturally from the cultivated suavity and gentleness of the man. Though we can only here and there compare his poems with the Greek originals that suggested or inspired them, we feel that Horace’s work, like Virgil’s is, in the last analysis, truly Roman, that the feelings he describes or expresses, suit the men of his own land and time. His sharing in the cause of Brutus as against the second triumvirate resulted in the confiscation of his property and compelled him, as he says, through poverty, to take to writing verses. This brought him to the notice of Varius and Virgil and he was thus introduced to the wealthy patron of poets and literary men, Mæcenas, in whose circle his wit and poetic gifts made him at once popular. Augustus wished to make him his private secretary, but Horace succeeded in declining this position of onerous responsibility without offending his imperial master.

    His first works, the ‘Epodes’ and ‘Satires’ (“sermones” or “talks” as he himself called them) were, like most of his writings, primarily intended as occasional poems to be read to his friends for their delectation, like those of Oliver Wendell Holmes or Thomas Bailey Aldrich. His satire was better-natured than that of Lucilius and was directed against the weaknesses of groups and classes rather than those of individuals. The folly of acquiring wealth, of gossiping about one’s neighbors, the assiduity of a bore, the evils of parasitism, are treated in the lightly facetious or witty tone of a polished, well-read cosmopolitan. The worldwide reputation of Horace depends, however, almost entirely on the four books of ‘Odes.’ These highly polished gems mirror different phases of a full and rich experience of life, and reflect in crystal clearness the poet’s sentiments and feelings. We come to know Horace as we know few men of letters. Whether reveling in the beauty of a winter landscape, or lying in summer-time at ease by the side of a brook, or lightly sporting with love, he is always the courteous, clever, and witty man of letters, devoted to his friends and loyal to the imperial régime to which they all owed so much.

    In his later writings, notably in the ‘Epistles,’ the philosophical, reflective, and critical side of his nature comes more to the front. He wishes by this means to impress on his younger friends his own ideas touching on morals and literature, and in these later years he turns rather to the sterner ideals of stoicism, with its lessons of endurance and self-sacrifice.

    The two elegiac poets, Tibullus and Propertius, grace the early part of Augustus’s reign. Tibullus, of whose four books only the first two are to be regarded as genuine, was a poet of a retiring, gentle, and kindly disposition, the friend of M. Valerius Messala Corvinus, who, like Mæcenas, though without his political influence, cultivated the friendship of literary men. His first book was written under the inspiration of the so-called Delia, a woman of the middle class, while the poems in his second book are addressed to Nemesis, a famous courtesan of his time. In spite of her faithlessness and rapacity, Tibullus seems to have remained devoted to her till death. His generous, loyal, forgiving nature is reflected in his poems, as well as his love of the old quiet religious life of the country. His literary style is natural and direct but at the same time gracefully refined and polished, though his treatment of the elegiac verse, it must be said, sometimes lacks variety.

    Propertius differs greatly in style from Tibullus. He seems almost to aim at obscurity and, in fact, calls himself the Roman Callimachus. His poetry is full of learned allusions to and imitations of Philetas, Theocritus, and Apollonius Rhodius, and is characterized by the greatest unevenness of execution. His language is often vague and indirect, and his use of Latin is forced and strange. When he is at his best, however, his power of imagination and the vigor of his thought and imagery are far greater than those of Tibullus. His inspiration, like that of Tibullus, was drawn at any rate in his love poems from his liaisons with an early love, Lycinna, and a certain Cynthia, a courtesan of high literary gifts who undoubtedly helped him by her criticism, and appreciation. Like Tibullus, Virgil, and Horace, he suffered the loss of his property under the second triumvirate, but was later compensated for this by the friendship of Mæcenas and Augustus. He was decidedly vain, foppish, and egotistical, and, being emotionally sensitive, he was inclined to fits of melancholy which give many of his poems a gloomy pessimistic tone.

    Ovid (43 B.C.–18 A.D.), though younger than Tibullus and Propertius, was intimate with them both and with Messala, the former’s patron. Mæcenas he never mentions. Since he was born in the last year of the republic and died shortly after the death of Augustus, his work falls within the limits of this emperor’s reign, and it shows many clear signs of the social and moral degeneracy that was increasingly prevalent at this time. As we of to-day go to Europe to study art and foreign languages and literature, so Cicero, Horace, Catullus, Virgil, and Ovid visited the cities of Greece and Asia Minor and became thoroughly familiar with the language and literature and art of that older civilization. The decadent vices of Greece and the Orient, in spite of Augustus’s attempt to stem their tide, were then affecting not only the life but the literature of Rome. Sensual gratification and the pursuit of pleasure were almost the only objects for which the wealthy classes of the time lived, and Ovid not only voices this spirit but caters to its demands. This is particularly true of his earlier works, the ‘Amores,’ which tells of his love for his mistress Corinna, the ‘Medicamina Formæ,’ a treatise on the use of cosmetics, and the ‘Ars Amatoria,’ on the art of making love. On finding that public opinion as well as the imperial government had been shocked by the cynical indecency of this last work, he published a recantation which he entitled the ‘Remedia Amoris.’

    The works on which his reputation will forever rest are the ‘Metamorphoses’ and the ‘Fasti.’ These were to the writers of the Italian Renaissance and later to Spenser, Shakespeare, Milton, and Dryden an inexhaustible treasure-house of Greek fancy, poetry, and myth, for Ovid was in those times read and admired even more than Virgil himself.

    The cumulative corrupting effect of his ‘Ars Amatoria,’ combined with some indiscretion which he himself belittles but which seems to have involved the emperor’s granddaughter Julia, resulted ten years after the poem appeared in his being banished to Tomi, on the shores of the Black Sea, where he spent the last years of his life. There he wrote his ‘Tristia’ and the ‘Letters from Pontus’ which carried his laments for lost happiness, and the tale of his woes as an exile, to his friends in Rome.

    Though possessing an amiable and genial temperament, incapable of meanness, snobbishness, or hypocrisy, Ovid was by nature a cynic and a mocker. Reverence for what was morally good or great was utterly foreign to his nature, although his appreciation of the beautiful in literature was very keen and discriminating. He was gifted with a wonderful imaginative and visualizing power, which, added to an unusual memory, enabled him to depict with unending variety the myths and stories of Greece as no other writer has ever done.

    Though he added little except greater fluency and animation to the earlier Romans’ use of the hexameter, he really gave the elegiac couplet that final polished perfection which has served as a model for generation after generation of English Latinists who have sought in happily turned verses to celebrate some hero of their own late age. As Virgil gilds and glorifies the rising hopes of Augustus’s early empire and as Horace depicts its busy life as it actually was at its height, so Ovid lightly sketches the corruption that attended the leisure of its senility and decay.

    The Augustan age produced only one great prose writer, the historian Livy (59 B.C.–17 A.D.), whose work may almost be called an epic in prose. Like Virgil, he took as his theme the greatness of Rome, though it was the greatness of the Roman republic that he most fully appreciated and extolled in his history. Livy was well-born and highly educated and therefore easily and gracefully accepted the rule of Augustus, without feeling himself obliged to flatter the emperor or to add himself to his immediate courtiers, and Augustus was glad to have a historian, who, living under his reign, served to connect it with the glorious past of republican times. Livy was an ardent admirer of the virtues of bygone days and a believer in the power of what was just and right, though he regarded his own age and time as degenerate. The libraries and literary clubs of the day were an aid and inspiration in his work, and while the chroniclers and annalists that he selected were not in every case the best authorities that he might have found, he succeeded in popularizing their dry details so as to make the heroes of the past live once more by the very vividness of his narrative. His history, to which he devoted at least forty years, covered the time up to the death of Drusus (9 B.C.) and consisted of 142 books, of which all but thirty-five disappeared in the course of the Middle Ages, though we have epitomes that tell us of what they treated. The division of the books into tens or decades was made long after. In his preface he states clearly his didactic purpose of inculcating in the common people of his time moral lessons drawn from the past history of the foremost people in the world. He writes always as a Roman and in accordance with that feeling which seems to have been the mainspring of almost all Roman literature, a desire to extol the greatness of Rome or at least to criticize its faults with the expectation of correcting them. With him, as with almost all the Romans, a piece of literature was not an artistic creation which came into being almost in spite of itself, compelled by the desire of its creator for self-expression, but simply a means to an end, a highly finished and polished tool. Livy’s literary style is eloquent and graceful, with a story-telling power that has seldom been surpassed.

    The Roman Emperors to Marcus Aurelius

  • 31 B.C.–14 A.D.Augustus
  • 14–37Tiberius
  • 37–41Caligula
  • 41–54Claudius
  • 54–68Nero
  • 68–69Galba
  • 69Otho
  • 69Vitellius
  • 69–79Vespasian
  • 79–81Titus
  • 81–96Domitian
  • 96–98Nerva
  • 98–117Trajan
  • 117–138Hadrian
  • 138–161Antoninus Pius
  • 161–180Marcus Aurelius
  • Reading Recommended
    (Augustan Age)

  • c. 74–64–8 B.C.Gaius Cilnius Mæcenas, the friend of Augustus and patron of literature
  • 70–19 B.C.Publius Virgilius Maro
  • 65–8 B.C.Horace (Quintus Horatius Flaccus)
  • 59 B.C.–17 A.D.Livy
  • c. 55–19 B.C.Tibullus
  • 43 B.C.–18 A.D.Ovid
  • c. 50–c. 16 B.C.Propertius
  • c. 1–c. 54 A.D.Phædrus
  • The Silver Age

    Among the writers of the Silver Age, Seneca was the earliest and exerted perhaps the greatest influence on his successors. An artificial, stilted, and declamatory style which sacrificed almost everything to external form had begun to prevail in all types of literature. Rhetorical figures of speech, florid adornment of all kinds, brilliant apophthegms and studied pithy and concise gnomic sayings characterize his work and much of that of his contemporaries. His tragedies exemplify the faults of his literary style in the highest degree. Hardly anything has ever been written that surpasses the bombastic verbosity and preciosity of these renderings of old Greek plays. His orations and some early scientific work have perished, though we have seven books of investigations in natural history. In his ‘Dialogues,’ and his other essayistic work, the ordinary events of life are made the subjects of little sermons in the form of conversations on conduct and morals. Modern ethical discussions are often surprisingly anticipated in these writings of nearly two thousand years ago, and many of the altruistic doctrines of Christianity seem to have suggested themselves to the stoics as a result of their belief in the brotherhood of all mankind. Seneca vindicated the stoic’s belief in the right to commit suicide by killing himself in 65 A.D., after Nero, whose teacher he had been, and whom he had faithfully served in various political offices, had become alienated from him and was about to seize him and punish him for his supposed part in a conspiracy against him.

    Whether Petronius the author is the notorious Gaius Petronius the courtier of whom Tacitus speaks as living under Nero’s reign is perhaps doubtful. Certain moral and social indications seem, however, to point to the identity of the two. The satires form a medley of prose and poetry dealing in story form with ordinary life, and made humorously piquant by risqué scenes and situations. Conversations about literature, education, and life in general are introduced more or less dramatically and afford interesting pictures of the time. Many of the tales interspersed herein have become classics as “short stories.” While Petronius’s literary art and taste are perfect, his brutal cynicism and heartlessness make his writings seem, if not inhuman, at least unhuman.

    Of the two greatest satirists of the Silver Age, Persius and Juvenal, Persius had written a tragedy in his early youth, but Lucilius’s example had soon stirred him to turn to satire. He seems to have been of a very retiring disposition, devoted to his mother, a sister, and an aunt. His satires are drawn from books rather than from life, as is indicated by the fact that the names of his characters are borrowed from Horace, whom he imitates in many other particulars as well, but whom he surpasses in the seriousness of his purpose and the dignity of his manner. Owing to his strained and unnatural expression, his thought is often very obscure and difficult to get at. His six satires treat respectively of the literary degeneracy of the day, of praying to the gods, of the proper aims of life, of self-knowledge, of liberty, and of the right use of money.

    Among the critical and encyclopædic writers of this age, Pliny the Elder is for many reasons pre-eminent. His varied learning and his industry have seldom been excelled. While in the bath, when riding, and even while being borne in his litter, he was always reading or being read to, or jotting down notes. He was, in fact, too busy to do much thinking, so that we find little originality in his work. His history of the German wars is referred to with respect by Tacitus but was superseded by the latter’s ‘Germania.’ Like Cicero, whom he strove to imitate, he was an advocate, and like him, learned in the principles of philosophy and rhetoric. He wrote voluminous works on these subjects and a history of his own times. His nephew, Pliny the Younger, says that his writings were as full of matter and as varied as nature herself. We possess only his ‘Naturalis Historia’ in thirty-seven books. It treats of geology, geography, anthropology, zoölogy, botany, and, in particular, mineralogy. In the last, Pliny deals with the uses of metals and the various kinds of stones and marbles, as used in the arts and in art and architecture. In this work Varro seems to have been one of his principal sources. His stoicism and his conviction that human nature had become essentially corrupt give a somewhat gloomy tone to his philosophy. He held numerous political offices, especially under his friend the Emperor Vespasian, and on the fatal 24th of August, 79 A.D., was in charge of the Roman fleet stationed near Vesuvius when the great eruption that buried Herculaneum and Pompeii took place. How his scientific zeal tempted him too near and how he lost his life are vividly described in one of the younger Pliny’s letters to Tacitus.

    Quintilian was an orator and pleader of some repute, but was above all else a teacher and a writer on oratory and literature. His influence was of a reactionary tendency, for he harked back to Cicero, whom he incessantly extols, and strove to stem the tide of ornate and flowery oratory, of pointed epigrams, of tricks and turns and tropes in public speech. Vespasian made him a formal professor of the rhetorical art, and Martial speaks of him as “controlling the restless youth.” While engaged in writing his ‘Institutio Oratoria’ (the Training of an Orator), he was the teacher of the two grand-nephews of Domitian. Greek ideals had by his time given place to Latin, and Quintilian emphasizes the need of character building, and the development of the greatest patience in fundamental detail. The orator who was to enter public life should, according to him, have the widest and soundest culture; there could be no rapid and royal road to oratory for such a man. As a literary critic of his Greek and Latin predecessors, he is without a rival.

    Statius (c. 45–c. 96 A.D.) was the son of a poet of good family but of no great wealth, and like his father took part in and was often victorious in the poetical contests that were common in his time. His work falls into two classes: epics, of which we possess a ‘Thebais’ in twelve books and a fragment of an ‘Achilleis,’ and a collection of poems on various themes called by him ‘Silvæ.’ The epics are less original in style, though carefully elaborated, and are as a whole uninteresting. In the latter poems which correspond very closely to a modern poet’s output in an average volume of verse, we find fulsome and extravagant praise of the Emperor Domitian, pathetic poems lamenting the dead or in consolation of the living, a birthday ode in honor of Lucan, light and graceful poems about home and childhood, or descriptive of the villas of his friends, or telling of his own disappointments in poetical contests. He shows himself in these a poet of great natural talent, a ready writer and improviser with the virtues that usually attend these gifts, rapidity, fluency, and freshness of style.

    Juvenal (c. 55–127) in the early part of his life was an amateur declaimer, and he seems only accidentally to have discovered his gift as a satirical writer. He probably voices the feelings of the middle class for he was certainly not wealthy. It was only after reaching middle age that he published any of his satires, and it was probably of him in this quiescent period that Quintilian speaks when he says, “There are, too, in our own day distinguished writers of satire whose names will be heard of hereafter.” The harsh rule of Domitian whom Juvenal feared and hated may have accounted for this reticence. His banishment must have come very late in his life or must have been for a comparatively short time, for his poems show a long familiarity with the corruption of the city, and such historical allusions as he makes are to events scattered over a long period of time. He seems to have been intimate with the somewhat free-living Martial, and his other friends and acquaintances, to judge from the satires themselves, were of no very high order, though as described by him they may not represent real persons at all. The sixteen satires probably appeared in the order in which we have them and distributed in five books. Book I. shows the bitterest feeling against Domitian. Book II. contains a famous satire against women. Book IV. and, in a still greater degree, Book V. show a far milder tone, though now and again the old fiery invective bursts forth. Both Juvenal and Tacitus show that “sæva indignatio” which makes their literary style. Juvenal feels that the old Roman virility and vigor are forever gone, while Tacitus thinks that under a new régime there may be hope. Juvenal is more of a rhetorical declaimer than a great poet, but his power to depict character in only a few striking words is very remarkable.

    To complete the vivid picture of the corrupt life of Rome given us by Juvenal so objectively and so critically characterized in his bitterly forceful invective, Martial tells us, as one who loved the excitement and variety of the sad and bad and mad life of the capital, of his own experiences in making his way. He feels no shame in having attached himself to the rich or in servilely flattering the emperor and those in political power. His multitudinous epigrams are pithy and cleverly pointed, but their obscenity so disgusts the reader that their humor and wit often fall flat. They are, however, so rich in personal allusion and cast such light on the manner of life and on the customs of the time that the thoughtful student and interpreter of the epoch can hardly omit them from his reading.

    Tacitus, the famous historian, lived through the reigns of the nine emperors from Nero to Trajan, and gives us the clearest and most accurate picture of their acts and of their characters. It is as a moralist that he chiefly impresses us, and in emperors like Nero and Domitian on the one hand and Vespasian and Trajan on the other he found fit subjects to point a moral and adorn a tale. His first work, the ‘Dialogue on Orators,’ is in its scope purely literary and in its style Ciceronian, but his later works are all historical. The ‘Life of Agricola’ is naturally of peculiar interest to the English, and in the ‘Germania’ we find the Roman’s dread of the wild northerner haunting the historian’s imagination. The ‘Histories’ covered the reigns of Galba, Otho, Vitellius, Vespasian, Titus, and Domitian (69–97), and the ‘Annals,’ the earlier emperors from Tiberius to Nero. The faults of his style, a certain crabbedness and compression, a conscious rhetorical effort to pack each clause and phrase with all the meaning that it can carry, grew upon him with years. His sentences must be pried into and searched before they will surrender all their meaning.

    Pliny the Younger rivaled his uncle in industry and, like him, was a man of affairs and an advocate. He was a regular pleader before the board of the “centumviri,” a sort of chancery court. He was far from being in vigorous health and speaks of his thinness. We possess only his ‘Panegyric on Trajan,’ nine books of a general correspondence with his friends, among whom were Tacitus, Suetonius, Silius Italicus, and Martial, and a tenth book which contains his correspondence with Trajan while he was serving as governor of Bithynia. He was a very public-spirited citizen of his native town Comum, where he built a library, a school, and public baths, which are mentioned in an encomiastic inscription which is still extant in part. His literary style as an orator seems to have been too highly ornate and rhetorical, and this quality appears at times in his letters, though these, as a rule, are studiedly simple. We are forced to believe that they were all intended, and in fact written, for publication, for only once does he say anything derogatory of anybody, though he lived under the notorious Domitian. Of the informer Regulus he declares that he was the wickedest of all bipeds. One of the most interesting parts of his correspondence with Trajan is that in which he consults the emperor with regard to the degree of severity or toleration that should be used in dealing with the increasing number of Christians in Bithynia. His letters are masterpieces of graceful and finished writing, dealing with some one subject in particular and coming as near in spirit and tone to our modern essays as does anything ancient that is preserved to our time.

    Contemporary with the younger Pliny and Tacitus was the historian Suetonius, whose chief extant work is the ‘Lives of the Cæsars.’ His information was derived partly from documents to which, as Hadrian’s secretary, he must have had free access and partly from the gossip and court talk with which he was in constant touch. He accompanied the younger Pliny to Bithynia, and was highly appreciated by him. His history casts great light on the emperors’ private lives and has always been much read. Its style is simple and direct and its anecdotal character makes it very interesting reading. Of his ‘De viris illustribus’ we have the lives of Terence and Horace and parts of those of Lucan and the older Pliny.

    Of the later Roman writers, Aulus Gellius (Second Century) is known to us by his ‘Noctes Atticæ’ in which he jots down, with something like the elder Pliny’s industry, grammatical, antiquarian, biographical, and literary facts which he gleans from his private reading. The work is in twenty books, and, though utterly lacking in orderly arrangement, it is a storehouse of interesting information.

    Apuleius (c. 125–c. 180), the philosopher and rhetorician, parallels to us in Latin Lucian’s marvelous tale of Lucius or the Ass, for both seem to have followed the ‘Metamorphoses’ of Lucius of Patræ. The correct title is not ‘The Golden Ass’ but the ‘Metamorphoses.’ It deals in a comic Baron Munchausen tone with magic and witchcraft. The beautiful episode of Cupid and Psyche has been adopted into all modern literatures. His ‘Apology,’ a defense against the charge of practising witchcraft, or rather of obtaining his wife by magic arts, and some philosophic tracts of his on Plato and Socrates are also extant, as well as an anthology, called ‘Florida,’ of his rhetorical exercises and declamations.

    Calpurnius, the bucolic poet, called Siculus, perhaps because he imitated Theocritus, has left us eleven eclogues, four of which, however, were probably written by Nemesianus, who lived in the last part of the third century. He imitates his predecessors, especially Virgil, skillfully and with some real poetic feeling, marred, however, by a spirit of abject flattery.

    Floras, a friend of Hadrian, wrote poems in a light vein and in graceful metres that had great influence on later poets. A poem entitled ‘De rosis’ was especially famous.

    Ausonius (c. 310–c. 395) who was, like Florus, a rhetorician as well as poet, taught in his native place, the modern Bordeaux, for many years, and was then called to Rome to educate Gratian, the heir to the throne of Valentinian. He wrote in prose summaries of the ‘Iliad,’ and ‘Odyssey’ and in verse many translations from the Greek Anthology. Memorial verses in honor of his deceased friends and relatives and on famous men of the past were a specialty of his. As the themes he chose show, he was more of a scholar than poet.

    Claudian, epic poet and panegyrist of the time of Arcadius and Honorius, is often called the last of the Roman poets, and is easily the greatest of these poets that we are here discussing. As Gibbon says, he had the “rare and precious talent of raising the meanest, of adorning the most barren, and of diversifying the most similar topics.”

    Rutilius Namatianus flourished at the beginning of the fifth century and has left a very interesting poem ‘De Reditu Suo,’ in which he describes a journey from Rome to Gaul, in A.D. 416. It is in elegiac metre and is of high literary merit, but it is chiefly interesting for the light it casts on the history, religion, and life of the time.

    St. Augustine, the most famous of the four great Fathers of the Church, was more a theologian and dialectician than a man of letters, but his ‘Confessions’ is one of the most celebrated specimens of psychological autobiography ever written. His most constructive work entitled ‘The City of God’ (‘De Civitate Dei’) is an apologetic in defense of Christianity and the Church. We have, too, nearly four hundred of his sermons.

    In Boethius or Boetius, who lived at the close of the fifth and the beginning of the sixth century A.D., we have the last of the genuinely Roman writers. He was a learned philosopher and statesman (being consul in 510), but fell under the displeasure of Theodoric and was put to death in 524. His most famous work, ‘De Consolatione Philosophiæ,’ is an allegorical portrayal of the blessings that philosophy brings to men. During the Middle Ages he was the great interpreter of Aristotle to the schools of Europe.

    Reading Recommended
    (Later Latin Literature)

  • c. 4 B.C.–65 A.D.Seneca
  • 23–79 A.D.Pliny the Elder
  • 34–62 A.D.Persius
  • c. 35–c. 95 A.D.Quintilian
  • c. 40–c. 104 A.D.Martial
  • c. 45–c. 96 A.D.Statius
  • c. 27–66 A.D.Petronius
  • 56–c. 120 A.D.Tacitus
  • fl. 60 A.D.Titus Calpurnius Siculus
  • c. 55–127 A.D.Juvenal (Decimus Juntos Juvenalis)
  • 61/2–c. 113 A.D.Pliny the Younger
  • c. 69–c. 122 A.D.Suetonius
  • Second Century A.D.Publius Annius Florus
  • c. 125–c. 180 A.D.Apuleius
  • Second Century A.D.Aulus Gellius
  • Fourth Century A.D.Claudius Claudianus
  • 310–396 A.D.Decimus Magnus Ausonius
  • 354–430 A.D.Saint Augustine
  • d. 524 A.D.Boethius